Whether it’s in our morning coffee, afternoon smoothie, or evening pasta, mushrooms are all the rage. But why is everyone getting behind these tasty fungi, and should we jump on the mushroom train too?
Mushrooms are getting a lot of attention these days – and it’s not because of a new chicken Marsala recipe. They are being used in everyday staples (like coffee!) as an adaptogen – a plant substance that is thought to help with things like relieving the body of stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
What’s so special about mushrooms, specifically?
Mushrooms have a unique nutritional profile, more so than any other fruit or vegetable currently on the scene.
They contain a broad combination of nutrients, which are similar to those in a wider variety of foods in categories such as grains, veggies, and meat. This includes vitamins such as B12 (most often seen in meat and dairy products), Vitamin D (present in fortified products or salmon and algae), as well as riboflavin (usually present in grains).
Mushrooms are also known for their fiber content, specifically beta-glucans, which is the same fiber in oats and is touted for its ability to help lower serum cholesterol.
Though there are many different types of mushrooms, and nutrient content for each species will vary, these general qualities are true for wild mushrooms as well as commercial, including the usual varieties of cremini, button, and portobello.
Mushrooms as Adaptogens
We love mushrooms, and some of my favorite Fountain Avenue Kitchen recipes feature them prominently. I recently grilled these Kale and Boursin Stuffed Grilled Portobellos as a side with simply grilled salmon and it was a major hit. The Wild Mushroom Pizza is also a perfect make-ahead appetizer (any time of year!), and the Mushroom Ground Beef gives burgers or meat sauce that extra special umami flavor that only mushrooms can provide.
But given their unique nutrition profile, mushrooms are being used in more ways than simply slicing and sautéing. They are being treated similarly to other foods with beneficial nutrients, getting packaged into powders, pills, and supplement blends to be incorporated into daily diets.
This is essentially the definition of an adaptogen – the idea that a bioactive compound in a food can have a direct impact on our bodies.
But Mushroom Coffee?
Some local shops brew their own mushroom coffee or purchase from one of many brands. For example, Mud/wtr is a company that offers different blends like cacao coffee and matcha tea, which include dried and ground mushrooms. These blends do contain caffeine but not as much as a straight cup of coffee or tea. The company also offers turmeric and Rooibos tea blends with no caffeine.
Similarly, Laird Superfood produces a latte mushroom coffee blend, and Kos sells a blend with mocha, which can be used for baking. Om and KIKI Green are two brands that sell mushroom powder for smoothies, and some come in flavors like chocolate or vanilla.
I recently tried Four Stigma’s “THINK” Organic Coffee grounds with Lion’s Mane and Chaga Mushrooms for $16.79 for 12 ounces. The ingredients are ground coffee and wild-crafted mushroom extract, and the aroma was similar to regular ground coffee.
To be honest, I couldn’t detect anything mushroomy about it –it tasted like a regular cup of joe. The amount of caffeine in this product was also comparable to a regular cup of coffee.
Ann tried the matcha tea mix from RYZE, which is an instant dissolvable powder rather than something that needs to be brewed through a filter. She thought it tasted similar to a regular matcha tea and didn’t notice much of a difference. But when she tried the RYZE coffee/mushroom dissolvable mix, it wasn’t her favorite thing to drink (even though it got great reviews!).
As a consumer, we must be able to think critically…
Will drinking mushroom coffee instead of regular brew have an impact on our health? Amidst the health wave of mushrooms, we’ve been made to think that’s almost a rhetorical question. Like, of course it is!
But research is not clear on the role of adaptogens in general or the specific benefits of mushroom powders. The promising studies in support of mushrooms as adaptogens have either been done on animals or are not comprehensive enough. Many claims made about mushrooms are more hyperbole and pseudoscience than fact.
There are too many variables to grapple with such as mushroom type, how they are processed, the way an individual metabolizes and absorbs nutrients, what else that person eats and drinks in a day, and how much they are dosing.
It’s a challenge to prove any one food has certain capabilities once it’s been eaten.
How to maximize Vitamin D from mushrooms?
In my opinion, this is the area of most interest and also most backed by research. It has the most potential to make a direct impact.
The most efficient way to get adequate Vitamin D is for our bodies to make it from sun exposure. This is why most people who live in a non-tropical climate need Vitamin D supplements to maintain adequate serum levels. Especially because there’s a short list of foods that contain Vitamin D – fish, liver, algae, and mushrooms.
So in the 1930’s, the United States began fortifying commonly eaten foods to eradicate rickets (or bone disease secondary to inadequate Vitamin D levels), which was quite common at the time. This included milk, orange juice, and cereals, for example.
Some research studies – but not all – have suggested that UVB-exposed mushrooms seem to be just as effective as Vitamin D supplements in raising serum D levels. This is because there’s a high concentration of ergosterol in mushroom cell walls, which turns into pre-Vitamin D2, and then Vitamin D2, when hit by UVB.
If the idea of increasing your Vitamin D levels using mushrooms sounds appealing, it may take a bit more work than a traditional Vitamin D supplement. Here are some things to consider before giving it a try:
- There are Vitamin D-enhanced mushrooms in some markets. I personally have not seen them, but please let us know if you have – I would pick up a pack for sure!
- Alternatively, some people buy (or pick wild mushrooms, but this requires so knowledge and training to do safely!) and then lay them out in the sun for about an hour or so. This gives mushrooms a boost of active Vitamin D, instead of just pre-Vitamin D.
- For those with suboptimal Vitamin D levels (and in conjunction with your physician’s input), you could try increasing intake of UVB-exposed mushrooms. Check levels again after six months to see if it worked.
Who needs to be extra cautious about mushrooms?
Mushrooms eaten as part of a standard diet typically do not need to be avoided for any specific condition. However, some mushroom extracts and supplements may interact with medications (for example, reishi or lion’s mane and blood thinners) and should not be tried without first speaking with a physician.
Mushrooms have a unique nutritional profile including a wide array of micronutrients and fiber. They are an excellent addition to our diets!
Because of these nutritional qualities, mushrooms have been labeled as “adaptogens,” a food that can provide benefits to the body such as reducing stress and anxiety. Mushroom powders, supplements, and coffees are marketed to those who want to increase their mushroom intake.
The science behind mushrooms as adaptogens is not conclusive, and those considering supplementing should consult their physician before trying. Even a one-time trial can impact how certain medications work.
There is strong evidence that UVB-exposed mushrooms can increase serum Vitamin D levels.
brown emoji If you have tried mushroom coffee or supplements, please share your experiences below!